Thursday, February 26, 2009

Of gardens and plants

Two pieces of good news today, which is especially welcome given how every morning, when my alarm goes off, NPR comes on detailing further economic woes and such. The first item I'll just mention briefly, but the second I'd like to delve into a bit deeper (as I promised to do in a previous posts' comments section).

First up: Official indication that a White House organic garden, if not a farm, is an entirely probable eventuality. Neil Hamilton, an adviser to USDA head Tom Vilsack, was heard saying:
I believe that by this summer there will be a garden – another garden, a vegetable garden – on the White House lawn...I believe the Obamas are committed to that. It’s a big idea, and its gonna happen. During the campaign, going around shaking peoples’ hands, he never got sick once. He was eating well, and it could have to do with having an organic chef with him. This is someone who 'gets' nutrition.
Maybe Claire Strader will get her Obama Administration post after all, even if it's just as official White House Gardener instead of Farmer. In any case, this is good news.

Secondly, our new Attorney General, Eric Holder, made it clear in a recent press conference that, under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department will no longer raid places that distribute medical marijuana in states where such things are legal.

Under Bush, the JD had been instructed to carry out the rather draconian raids based on state law conflicting with federal law on the matter. So this new policy is definitely a step in the right direction, even if we, as a country, still have a long way to go on this issue.

Simply put, US drug policy as it specifically relates to marijuana is outdated, misdirected, highly flawed, and costly - both in terms of the cash required to enforce, and in the sense of pushing its cultivation and distribution underground, feeding into an often violent culture of organized crime (Prohibition, anyone?).

I am not a pot smoker. Frankly, I don't smoke anything, as I think it's gross. But you know what? I've still done the research, and I've talked to the people most effected, and I've come to the same conclusion as that of thousands of other, more well-informed and qualified individuals. We need to, at the very least, decriminalize the stuff.

As most advocates of relaxing laws related to pot will readily admit, marijuana is not an entirely harmless substance. But it still poses similar, if not lesser, risks to that of the use of alcohol and tobacco. As those things are legal but heavily regulated, so should marijuana be.

The US spends billions of dollars a year on the arrest and incarceration of people for pot related offenses. According to the most recent set of statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly half of all drug related arrests in the country are made for marijuana related offenses. Furthermore:
According to the new BJS report, "Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004," 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug violations are serving time for marijuana offenses. Combining these percentages with separate U.S. Department of Justice statistics on the total number of state and federal drug prisoners suggests that there are now about 33,655 state inmates and 10,785 federal inmates behind bars for marijuana offenses. The report failed to include estimates on the percentage of inmates incarcerated in county and/or local jails for pot-related offenses.
Decriminalizing pot wouldn't get rid of all of those offenders. Some of them are desperate or nasty sorts who will find other ways to make money, no doubt. But I think a pretty solid argument can be made that such a move would drastically reduce the overall number of arrests and incarcerations. The associated savings combined with tax revenues from good regulation would stand to make/save a decent amount of money for the country/tax payers.

Part of the problem that leads to our current, misguided policies toward pot is the sheer amount of misinformation that's been fed to the public for the past century. The stigmatization of the "demon weed" by moneyed interests has been well documented but somewhat poorly marketed.

The propaganda campaign aimed toward instilling a sense of fear and menace in regards to this plant has ranged, over time, from the ridiculous to the sneakily mundane, but much of what we've been taught has been either outright falsehood or very stretched truth. Worse, because of that atmosphere, truly scientific medical studies of its use were almost non-existent until very recently.

The real casualties of all this aren't to do with perpetually stoned hippies, but rather with those who stand to really benefit from its medicinal uses, and those who've come up with a whole slew of ways in which to use its non-intoxicating counterpart, hemp (read a comprehensive explanation of the plant and its many uses here).
Industrial hemp has many uses, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, health food, and fuel. It of the earliest domesticated plants known. It also runs parallel with the "Green Future" objectives that are becoming increasingly popular. Hemp requires little to no pesticides, no herbicides, controls erosion of the topsoil, and produces oxygen. Furthermore, hemp can be used to replace many potentially harmful products, such as tree paper (the processing of which uses chlorine bleach, which results in the waste product polychlorinated dibensodioxins, popularly known as dioxins, which is carcinogenic, and contributes to deforestation), cosmetics, and plastics, most of which are petroleum-based and do not decompose easily. The strongest chemical needed to whiten the already light hemp paper is non-toxic hydrogen peroxide.
While some inroads have been made in certain states through the passage of bills making it legal for farmers to grow industrial hemp, there are still several hurdles to jump and a ways to go before the practice is legal and commonplace throughout the country. In the meantime, we're missing out on a valuable, sustainable, low-impact source for all sorts of goods.

And medical marijuana holds the promise of extreme pain relief, sleep assistance, and appetite increase (among other things) in patients suffering from a range of maladies. Peer reviewed studies have shown this to be the case, even in the face of continued ignorance on the subject by those making the laws.

I am only somewhat hopeful that the new administration will take a serious, scientifically-based look at and approach to US drug policy. We need to do our part to hold them to this, and to see that action is taken from the ground up, too - starting with our own communities. Such action makes economic, medical, and social justice sense.


illusory tenant said...

You got your pictures mixed up, with the post below this one.

Emily said...

I am slapping my knee, right now.

The Lost Albatross